‘Get in burning car or you’ll be eaten by lions’

Helen Clements, 43, her daughter Charlie, 12, and son George 9, were in their car when it caught fire in the lion enclosure. Picture: SWNS
Helen Clements, 43, her daughter Charlie, 12, and son George 9, were in their car when it caught fire in the lion enclosure. Picture: SWNS
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A MOTHER has described the dilemma she faced with her two children after their car burst into flames in a lion enclosure.

Helen Clements was visiting Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire with her nine-year-old son George and daughter Charlie, 12, on Good Friday when their vehicle overheated.

Photographs posted on Twitter showed the 4x4-type car engulfed in flames in the enclosure, which is home to 12 lions.

Mrs Clements said: “I thought the car had overheated. Then basically, we thought, ‘No, that’s not steam, that’s actually smoke’.

“It was getting thicker and thicker and obviously coming into us, and then we saw flames.”

Mrs Clements, 43, from Kingswood, Gloucestershire, sounded the car’s horn to alert rangers who managed to rescue the family and clear the animals from the enclosure.

She said: “Unfortunately, they were shouting to us, ‘Get back in the car, do not get out of the car’.

“It was a situation of what do you do? Do you get out of the car because you’re on fire? And they’re telling you to get back in the car, so that was the 
dilemma.”

Mrs Clements said her son got out of the car and ran before they were rescued but she called him back. She said her children were “very shaken up” by the incident.

She added: “Luckily we didn’t think about the lions – I’m glad that wasn’t playing on our minds. The cars in front of us were kind of shielding us from them so we didn’t really see how close they were.

“If we had been just 50 yards further along, it would have been a very different story.

“But now I look back I think ‘oh my goodness why did it happen in the lion enclosure’. Why not while we were at the penguins, or the flamingos or the camels?”

A spokesman for Longleat said the family were transferred to a ranger’s vehicle and no-one was hurt.

The park was closed temporarily while firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Anna Bing, who was visiting the park, said: “We were stuck for 20 minutes in the enclosure not moving. We saw the lions being chased back to their pen by the keepers in a Land Rover.

“Then the queue started moving and we could see smoke. Then the firefighters arrived and as we passed the fire was out.”

A spokesman for Longleat Safari Park said: “A car overheated in the first lion enclosure.

“The occupants of the vehicle, a female and two children, were quickly picked up by rangers who transferred them into their vehicle and the fire service was called. The car subsequently caught fire after the guests had been escorted out of their car

“No-one was injured in any way and no lions were hurt.

“The vehicle has now been safely removed and the safari park has fully reopened.”